The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 4           January 31, 2005  
Utah miners describe how they were fired for union fight
(front page)
PRICE, Utah—Coal miners in Utah who have fought a relentless battle for safe working conditions, livable wages, and respect and dignity on the job for 16 months at the Co-Op mine near here are pressing for resolution of several issues pending with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Despite delays on the part of the NLRB, Co-Op miners say they remain confident their efforts to be represented by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) will prevail. Miners say they have been encouraged in recent weeks by an outpouring of letters to the NLRB urging the board to rule in favor of the workers’ demands and other messages of solidarity and financial donations from the labor movement in the West and beyond.

The miners’ demands include that they be reinstated to their jobs and that the national labor board stick with an earlier ruling that votes by relatives of the mine owners not be counted in the union representation election. On December 9, a week before the union election at the Co-Op mine, the company, which is owned by the Kingston family, fired most of the foreign-born workers on the pretext that they lacked proper work documents. The miners counter that they had the same documents when they started their employment years ago. Some have given testimony to the labor board showing that the company fired the workers to retaliate for their efforts to win UMWA representation.

“I told the NLRB agent who interviewed me that a boss had pointed out to me who he was going to fire before the union election because they were union ‘troublemakers,’” said Co-Op miner Pedro Santos. “I endured several years of harassment myself from this boss. I can’t believe they fired all of us after we worked so hard for them for years.”

Santos said he did not take part in the 10-month strike that started in September 2003. For this reason, he said, some bosses thought they could openly speak to him about what they were going to do, even though the bosses were already planning to fire him as well.

“I also testified to the NLRB agent,” said Santos, “that another boss told me they were going to pile up ‘occurrences’ on some miners until they accumulate enough to fire workers they wanted to get rid of.” Santos had worked at the mine for nine years.

Under a “contract” between the International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU), which miners say is a company-run outfit, and C.W. Mining, which operates the mine, bosses can arbitrarily give miners “occurrences” for accidents, damaged equipment, missing days, or safety violations. If a miner accumulates eight occurrences, workers say, he or she can be terminated.  
Transcripts of affidavits to NLRB
Santos and several other miners said they have recently received transcripts of testimony they gave to the NLRB. These affidavits tell the story of how the Co-Op bosses used discriminatory firings, and other forms of harassment and intimidation, to scuttle the workers’ efforts to win UMWA representation.

Two NLRB agents traveled to Huntington, Utah, where the Co-Op mine is located, December 16-17, in conjunction with the December 17 vote on whether workers will be represented by the UMWA, the IAUWU, or no union. The labor board representatives interviewed five miners about their firings and took statements from them about company harassment on the job resulting from pro-UMWA activities, workers said. These affidavits are to be used by the NLRB in ruling on the unfair labor practice charges against C.W. Mining. The UMWA filed these charges on behalf of the Co-Op miners in December, demanding that all of the fired workers be reinstated.

Three of the five miners interviewed by the NLRB—Celso Panduro, Ricardo Chávez, and Alyson Kennedy—said they had been selectively terminated prior to the December 9 mass firings.

Santos himself was fired December 9 along with 35 others for supposedly not having proper documentation to work in the United States. Miners say that most of those fired by the company were not intimidated; they took part in the union representation election to back the UMWA. The two NLRB agents who took affidavits from the miners conducted the union election at the mine’s bathhouse.  
Union representation election
More than 100 other individuals, relatives of the Kingston family, also cast ballots in the election. These votes were sealed because Region 27 of the national labor board had ruled November 18 that none of these individuals were eligible to vote. C.W. Mining subsequently appealed this ruling to the national NLRB. Until a ruling is handed down on this question, these ballots won’t be counted.

The company also challenged most of the votes cast by some 40 miners, the large majority of whom had just been dismissed by the bosses.

The decision about which votes will be counted is now in the hands of the NLRB in Washington, D.C. The results of the union election won’t be announced until such a ruling is made.

The fight at the Co-Op mine was triggered in September 2003 when bosses at the mine fired 75 mostly Mexican-born workers after they protested the termination of one of their co-workers and harassment of other union backers. It had been the third attempt by the Co-Op bosses over two weeks to fire miners whom the bosses considered supporters of the UMWA. The workers turned the lockout into a strike that lasted nearly 10 months. During that time, the Co-Op miners’ received widespread support for their struggle in the United States and from other countries.

In July, the NLRB ruled the miners had been fired illegally and demanded the strikers be offered their jobs back. After an unconditional offer to return by the company, strikers were back on the job July 12. The NLRB also awarded the miners back pay and mandated a union representation election. Miners report that several issues from the first NLRB ruling are still pending. The miners say, for example, that they have not received yet any of the back pay ordered by the labor board. Between July and December, the workers faced incessant harassment and intimidation by the bosses on the job.  
Harassment by bosses on the job
“I presented the NLRB with written statements about how the bosses targeted me by putting me on a graveyard crew of mostly Kingston relatives,” said miner Alyson Kennedy. “They had me build stoppings [block walls to control ventilation in the mine] by myself. They usually have two people or more do this job. It was all a set up to claim I wasn’t working fast enough,” she continued.

“Two of my co-workers were also witnesses to a shoving incident by a boss against me at the mine, I told the NLRB. I provided the government agent with copies of the charges filed with the local county sheriff for this assault.”

Another miner, Celso Panduro, described his case to a Spanish-speaking NLRB agent. “I explained to him they fired me because I support the UMWA,” Panduro said. “When they fired me they claimed I refused orders from my boss, but I didn’t. I had been working sick and the boss wanted me to bolt a rooftop that would get me wet and sicker.” The “roof” is the ceiling of the underground mine. Roof bolting is a job involving securing the rock in the ceiling by inserting metal bolts. Roof bolters work in conditions where water is leaking down on them.

Ricardo Chávez said he testified that he was fired for not wearing a safety harness when working on a belt above ground. Chávez pointed out that the lead person of his crew, Chelsea Peterson, had not locked out the belt, which is a blatant safety violation. “This is discrimination against me because she committed a serious safety violation and continues to work at the mine, but I was fired for not following a safety procedure often ignored by the bosses.” Chávez said Peterson is the daughter of his boss.

Miner Bill Estrada also provided an affidavit to the NLRB about the harassment he faced on the job. He said he was also put on a crew with mostly Kingston relatives as an equipment washer underground. “The boss met with me twice about new job checklists and work performance, before meeting with anyone else on my crew,” said Estrada. “He told me I’d have two weeks to improve or he would terminate me.”

Estrada said he was fired December 28 by his boss after the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited the company with 10 safety violations that day. Estrada was given two “occurrences” by the Co-Op bosses for allegedly being at fault for one of the violations.  
Solidarity forthcoming
Since the firings last month, the miners report financial donations from many backers of their union-organizing struggle in the labor movement and others have eased the economic strains on them and their families. The cost of utility bills, rent, food, and other necessities continue to mount up while about 20 Co-Op miners remain without work. Miners report that the local state-run job service officers are making a point of checking Social Security numbers of Latino workers coming in to apply for jobs. Anglo workers are not asked for Social Security numbers when dropping off a resume.

Workers said the Co-Op Miners’ Fund got a big boost in mid January. A check for $7,338 arrived from the AFL-CIO Voices@Work program. A letter accompanying the contribution said, “Many of these donations come in the form of $10 or $20 contributions from union activists, workers and allies all over the United States who are inspired by these courageous miners. The money came from a Voice@Work Network email sent to more than 26,000 online members detailing the struggles of the miners and appealing for a donation to help them.”

Miners are also urging their supporters to keep sending letters to the NLRB, pointing out that a long delay in reinstating them to their jobs and ruling on the union representation election works to the advantage of the company.

Miners ask that letters demanding their reinstatement and upholding the exclusion of the Kingston votes from the union election be sent to: National NLRB, Robert J. Battista, Chairman, 1099 14th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20570-0001; and NLRB Region 27, Director, B. Allan Benson, 600 17th St., 7th floor—North Tower, Denver, CO 80202-5433; Tel: (303) 844-3551; Fax: (303) 844-6249.

Correspondence to the NLRB, along with other messages of solidarity and financial contributions, should also be sent to: UMWA District 22, 525 East 100 South, Price, UT 84501. Checks should be made out to “Co-Op Miners Fund.” For more information call: (435) 637-2037.  
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